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February 28, 2008

NY TimesWatch: Is Our Kidz Learning Edition?

Are our children learning?

Apparently not. And 'twill no doubt shock the assembled villainry to learn The BushReich is to blame for the sad intellectual decline of our nation's youth:

Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.

The survey results, released on Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, said the group that commissioned it, Common Core.

The organization describes itself as a new research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in public schools.

The group says President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects.

Damn that Shrub. Is there no end to his depredations?

It's bad enough he allows that horrid little mutt of his to run about soiling the carpets and shredding the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Must he be allowed to snatch books from the hands of screaming schoolchildren too? How else can it be possible to forget that old nursery rhyme:

"In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

What else can explain their inability to recall when the Civil War was fought? Some Evil Genius must have figured out a way to follow the poor tykes home from school and prevent them from reading in their spare time. He (for such a heartless fiend can only have been a man) must be literally shoving Nintendo Wii's into their unwilling hands when they'd much rather be reading books.

The horror!

And once the damage is done, even a fancy college education can't reverse it. That's right, you heard me. The ill effects of No Child Left Behind are so pernicious and invasive, they somehow extend right into the ivory towers of academe, nullifying even the gloriously mind-expanding influence of a Harvard education:

College seniors know astoundingly little about America’s history, political thought, market economy and international relations.

The overall average score for the approximately 7,000 seniors who took the American civic literacy exam was 54.2%, an “F.” That is consistent with the overall average of 53.2% posted by seniors last year. Not one college surveyed can boast that its seniors scored, on average, even a “C” in American civic knowledge.

Harvard seniors scored highest, but their overall average was 69.6%, a “D+.” That is almost identical to the 69.7% earned by Harvard seniors last year. Yale and Princeton seniors averaged only 65.9% and 61.9%, respectively. At 18 colleges, the average senior scored less than 50%.

The average senior failed all four subjects, scoring less than 60% in each.

If only this nation can hold on until November, when President Obama brings Hope and Change to a nation that has been suffering at the hands of a fiendishly moronic despot who ruthlessly steals facts from the minds of small children: a man with all the stunning intellectual prowess of a mildly confused chimp, who - despite his bumbling ineptitude - somehow managed to hoodwink not just Congress but the entire nation into waging an illegal and immoral war and defeated two vastly more intelligent opponents in a national election, while simultaneously betraying the Republican base by dishonestly doing precisely what he promised to do on the campaign trail.

No one expects that kind of duplicity from a politician. Especially one we enjoy despising so very much. But we won't get fooled again.

Obama in 2008.

Posted by Cassandra at February 28, 2008 05:29 AM

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OK, I took Lex's test... 96.67%. Apparently there are these things called "bonds" that the Fed buys sometimes, and it does something or other to the "economy."

Posted by: Grim at February 28, 2008 07:47 AM

And the NYT is the same watchdog who positively shrieks with indignation that homeschoolers
don't have a life. They keep their pointy little noses to that academic grindstone, winning spelling bees, geography bees, and other academic
competitions and the children schooled at the expense of the taxpayers are awash in after school activities. Their social skills are
a fine thing, but they can't be expected to KNOW
everything because they need to have a LIFE!

Posted by: Cricket at February 28, 2008 09:53 AM

The NYT is also the one who ran an article "raising the question" of whether McCain is disqualified from being President, having been born in the Canal zone... an issue settled since 1790.

Posted by: Grim at February 28, 2008 10:19 AM

Look buster, if you read it in the NY Times, you can bet your Presidency on it. Lord knows, I am.

Posted by: Barack Obama at February 28, 2008 10:21 AM

If all parents took a proper role in their children's education, you wouldn't have some school having to "teach the test".

When I did my student teaching in a low socio-economic status elementary school in a 3rd grade classroom (the first grade in which testing is done to comply with NCLB). We were were losing mire than one day of instruction a week in order to teach the kids testing strategies and give them practice tests.

However, at a much more affluent school where I substitute frequently (more than at any other school, by far), they have only recently started students on test pteparation, since the reading test will be administered on Wednesday next week. These kids, for the most part, have parents involved in their schooling and don't need months of preparation of "teaching the test" just to have most students reach a passing score. (This is not to say all the students at the "poor" school did poorly right off the bat - some students consistently performed well. Sadly, a majority of students struggled. It has nothing to do with the teachers (or Bush 43) and everything to do with their homelives...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 28, 2008 10:43 AM

While I agree with your aforementioned parental involvement, I has to ax a question here: I teach my children to read. Period. Then we read and discuss books. The eldest Labor Unit (he took six hours to be born and then had the gall to weigh 9 and a half pounds. Payback...) is
forced to keep a science notebook of his experiments; he has to draw them, write what he did and the outcome.

I teach them phonics first, then spelling to decode those nasty phonics.

Now, would I have to teach a test in order to get them to pass a reading test?

The question is not rhetorical; Georgia mandates that homeschoolers be tested using what ever the homeschooling parents prefer.

I ask it in context of taking the children to the school and being able to handle whatever test the school is administering.

What say you, Miss L? I need some insights here.

Posted by: Cricket at February 28, 2008 01:56 PM

As a military parent I have to say one thing about "teaching to the test". If that is so fricking necessary, how come my kids were always able to move from state to state and ace the state-mandated tests that they had never been "taught to"?

And how come the year they scored highest of all was the year after they were home schooled? (also coincidentally the year California didn't want to put my kids in HS honors and AP classes b/c they were home schooled... and then they outscored just about everyone in the school).

Posted by: Just Ax'ing at February 28, 2008 02:08 PM


The kids who were taught how to take the test were taught testing strategies: how to eliminate the 2 (supposedly) obvious wrong answers, and how to go back to the passage to justify what they think is the right answer. When I joined the classroom, about two weeks into the school year, they were "tested" with one sample passage with likely no more than 10 questions. You'd be shocked out how many students failed miserably. They just didn't have the necessary reading comprehension skills. By the time I left the classroom 3 months later, the practice testing had grow to something like 4 to 6 passages and took all day for everyone to complete. And, more shocking yet, I learned (through being in on the weekly 3rd grade team meetings) that the passages they started out with weren't even on a 3rd grade reading level. There were really good students in the class that performed to some level of passing from the beginning (the kids who had involved parents), but there were still students who couldn't get a 70 (passing) when I left. It just saddened me at all the time lost for valuable instruction to get these kids to learn how to take the test and hopefully pass.

Now, at the school where I most frequently sub, I've been in a 3rd grade classrooms recently (working with a special education student). Only recently have they done anything that can be construed as "test prep" for a reading test that will be administered on March 5. From what I can tell, the students have a passage to read and answer multiple choice questions for homework, then they go over it with the teacher as a whole class. They also had the students do one single "release" test (the actual state test from 3 years ago) so they could know what it looked like. That is a far cry from the days and days lost for instruction at the school where I student taught. Keep in mind, too, that these schools are in the same school district.

What you are doing, if all parents would do it, I think would be sufficient for most any child to pass these tests. By discussing the books you read, you are helping your child with reading comprehension skills. With those reading comprehension skills, you child wouldn't have to know to eliminate the 2 (of 4) choices that are intended to be obvious as incorrect responses - they should be able to zero in on the correct answer in most cases.

The "rich" school, so far as I know, has never had a problem with large numbers of students failing the TAKS tests. The "poor" school, while it meets standards for numbers of students passing, works at it by "teaching the test", and the students lose out on so many opportunities to expand their knowledge beyond passing a standardized test. Too bad these kids don't have parents that are willing and/or able to assist in their child's education (I won't get into the fact that many parents don't speak English...).

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 28, 2008 02:37 PM

"The "poor" school, while it meets standards for numbers of students passing, works at it by "teaching the test", and the students lose out on so many opportunities to expand their knowledge beyond passing a standardized test."
And that would be bad enough if that were all that they were to miss. The real crime is that the odds are huge in favor of their lives being forever spent at or near the bottom levels of the economy. This would be due to many things, chief among them would be the lack of parental support and involvement. And that poor children are often being raised in a community/cultural environment that punishes those who would work towards academic achievement. While money can't buy happiness, it certainly doesn't impede the prospect so much as a serious lack thereof.

IMJO, it's all about the attitude and work ethic.

While I suspect that I only missed 3 on the civics test because Walkin' Boss teaches young'uns at a private school and I go over this sort of stuff with her every year as she works on lesson plans and such (stick my nose into her work is a better description I suppose I should admit), I find it very disturbing that college kids performed so poorly...

I don't remember so well any more, age induced buffer size decrement no doubt. Especially when my kids ask me for particulars regarding my misspent yout'. But I have to wonder why young minds in college do not (can not?) recall, or worse, never knew.

“A Republic, if you can keep it.” indeed.

Posted by: btSmartAsAFifthGraderhun...MaybeMaybeNot at February 28, 2008 03:48 PM

"While money can't buy happiness,..."

Yanno, I'd really like the chance to test that theory. If, after twenty or thirty years of diligent study I find it to be true, I'll gladly give back all that's left -- less management and storage fees (compounded daily), of course.

As to the subject at hand......

Posted by: Snarkammando at February 28, 2008 06:15 PM

"As to the subject at hand......"
Hello..? Yes, a collect call for Mrs. Floyd from Mr. Floyd. Will you accept the charges from United States ...

And if we're going to use large caliber 1970's-1980's SnarkTillery® in abeyance of the GC's, I will submit the following for your consideration... The current state of affairs, WRT the subject at hand, may simply reflect what I suspect is the view of many in the government school administrivia ranks which seems to me to be that we should just sedate the unruly little creatures via whatever means is available while moving them along and pushing them out of the other end of the government education pipeline.
Or as Grim mentioned at his place recently, drug the energetic little ragamuffins into oblivion. The 21st century chemical equivalent of time out.

"I'll gladly give back all that's left -- less management and storage fees (compounded daily), of course."

P.S. This ain't no bank, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' arounnnnd... =;^}

Sheesh, If the future is a bunch of little
Code Pink/ALF/ELF/Anarchists roaming the land, I hope I die before I get old*.

* old (ld)

adj. old·er, old·est


a. Having lived or existed for a relatively long time; far advanced in years or life.

b. On or about 120 years of age or shortly before the accumulated funds and/or mazola runs out.

2. Being too old to rack the slide, aim and hit your target at distances beyond 7 yards in under 5 seconds.

Posted by: btMilburnDrysdalehun at February 28, 2008 07:02 PM


If they live that long. It's sad that with several of the kids in that class, I couldn't help but wonder if they'd live to see their 20th birthday, or even high school graduation. When dad is (or has been) in prison, and/or you have no adult supervision at home, and you already are a behavior problem at school... Classroom management was my biggest challenge that semester. I see the student teachers where I sub and wonder if they have any clue as to the kind of classrooms they might end up in once they get their first teaching job. And some people wonder why the percentage of new teachers who don't make it past the fifth year is so high...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 28, 2008 07:30 PM

For God's sake...my SIX year old can tell you when the Civil War was fought (as she just wrapped up a lesson on Abraham Lincoln) and WHY as well as when Columbus stumbled across America, where he was SUPPOSED to be heading, and some of the basic consequences of his discovery as they relate to the indigenous people of North America.

The catch is...she's in a public school. In Hawaii. Which ranks somewhere toward the bottom in terms of the quality of education.

The secret? We READ. A LOT. She came home with a basic worksheet about Abraham Lincoln and filled it out. Then she brought it to me to review and I asked her if she knew where her book about President Lincoln was in her room. She did. So we read it. She had questions so I did my best to answer them (I only scored an 81% on Lex's durned test...) and we even hopped on the computer to look up some more information. THEN she grabbed her little Fisher Price mp3 player and we listened to a song (think School House Rock) that I had downloaded for her about President Lincoln and we talked about that.

It's amazing how much they learn if you just offer it to them. But the key is that she READS. A LOT.

We discuss test-taking strategies every now and then but her number one asset in terms of her success will be the fact that she is, and always will be, a reader.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at February 28, 2008 10:17 PM


AMEN! That's one thing I want to try to instill into my students when I get a classroom of my own. I've even slowing building a classroom library (and, on a side note, as I have time, I'm writing little "book reports" on them and posting those to my blog - I might have some titles on there you might be interested; so far, most are for picture books, but I have found ones that promote patriotism...). Even if a child doesn't get what they need at home, I need to try my best to make up for it, in some tiny way, in the classroom. Nothing is more important to a child's education than reading: it is the key to being able to do everything else, even math. And kids who are behind in the early grades will only fall further and further behind their peers (this was the general topic of my Master's research paper [not an actual thesis]).

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 28, 2008 10:57 PM

"Being too old to rack the slide, aim and hit your target at distances beyond 7 yards in under 5 seconds."

If it comes to that, bthun, there are still revolvers.

Posted by: Grim at February 28, 2008 11:25 PM

"If it comes to that, bthun, there are still revolvers."
Heheh. That may be the reason I have such a fondness for my old S&W Model 19.

Some days you feel like a magnum, some days you don't... =8^}

Posted by: bthun at February 29, 2008 08:01 AM

A agree that a love of books is paramount.

My children were brought up in a home where they were surrounded by books. Their rooms had several book shelves loaded down with (you guessed it) books.

When my youngest son's fiancee

Posted by: Cassandra at February 29, 2008 09:03 AM

I have a real fondness for the S&W Model 19. It used to be the piece the Highway Patrol carried till they switched to them new-fangled 9 mm autos.

Pretty good revolver to shoot (and hit the target) with.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 29, 2008 10:00 AM

Miss Ladybug,
I have read the reviews- aka book reports -- on your site and have used them to find more books for S.W.H.N.O.B. I also have a nephew who is about to turn 5, so your insights on the picture books are of great value, to me, as well.
Thanks for that!


Posted by: Sly2017 at February 29, 2008 11:29 AM

Got an A- on Lex's quiz:

You answered 55 out of 60 correctly — 91.67 %

And since my degree's in Computer Science, it wasn't college that taught me all that. It was reading. I think that everyone here has touched on it. Schools teach down to the lowest common denominator, but parents encouraging their children to read will make sure their kids aren't the LCD in that school.

My mom and dad didn't spend an awful lot of time reading TO me, but they took me to the library as often as I wanted (which was a lot), they kept books around the house, and they encouraged me and my siblings to read often (as my parents themselves did). I'm planning on bringing this topic up with them when I see them tonight (they're coming into town).

Posted by: MikeD at February 29, 2008 11:32 AM

Oh bthun! I read all the Nancy Drew and my brother's Hardy Boys mysteries too! They were great fun and such easy reads that you could finish one off quickly.

I also loved (as a child) the Reader's Digest condensed novels. I still have them - both the children's classic series (which is how I was introduced to a lot of works of literature as a child) and the adult series, which I first discovered during a trip to my grandmother's house in Petersburg Va and then found my parents had right at home! I still have them in my basement and they are wonderful. I can still remember racing to the mailbox every month breathless with anticipation to see that Reader's Digest box show up.

And I just loved putting the 'library' sticker inside the front page and writing my name in it. In my basement I have so many of those old books. So many good memories.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 29, 2008 11:39 AM

Treasure Island.

The Lord of the Flies.

Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Books (read that a million times as a child - wonderful - and again to my boys). Talk about a morality tale.

Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising

The Call of the Wild

Huckeberry Finn
Tom Sawyer

The Deerslayer and Last of the Mohicans (I can't tell you how much I loved these - I have several versions of the movies now)

Scarlet Pimpernel

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (another one that shaped my life - I had a coffee can I used to save money in when we first married - got the idea from this book)

The Great Impersonation

Posted by: Cassandra at February 29, 2008 11:53 AM

Can't believe I forgot:

The Good Earth - Pearl Buck

Posted by: Cassandra at February 29, 2008 11:54 AM

"So many good memories"
Indeed they are Milady.

I've never been able to break out any of my boxes of books during our yard sales. I've sold off firearms, real nice stereo components, and other stuff one accumulates over the ages, but never any books. Well, other than the trading of paperbacks that took place when I was in the Navy.

Someone recently mentioned Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (on VC maybe?) which caused me to go rooting around through my boxes and dig that one out. A very interesting book regarding An Inquiry Into Values. Brown and almost brittle with age, annotated, highlighted but still a compelling read. But then I'm easily amused. I did the same to most of my technical manuals, even an operating system internals and data structures screed. =8^}

So much to (re-)read, so little time.

Posted by: bthun at February 29, 2008 11:58 AM

Such comments make me glad I have not quite ever given into the temptation to finally dispose of the crates and crates of books I keep hauling around, one move after another.

Posted by: Grim at February 29, 2008 12:15 PM

Here, here, Grim. Much to MH's chagrin, and as much as he and I may grumble and complain at having to lift the stacks of crates filled with books and ferry them around for yet another PCS move, it pains me to consider disposing of any of them.

Posted by: Sly2017 at February 29, 2008 12:39 PM


I'm glad you find them useful. Right now, I'm in process of writing one on the young adult book Eragon, which was written by a teenager. Once that is done, I'd like to do the sequel, Eldest. There will be two more books in the series.

For younger readers ready for chapter books, I want to write up reports on Peter and the Starcatchers, which is the story of how Peter Pan became Peter Pan. I'm reading the sequel right now, Peter and the Shadowthieves (500+ pages and some illustrations). The third book, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, is out in hardcover and I'll get it when it's in paperback. I also discovered they have written some simpler, much shorter, books for even younger chapter book readers. I've only bought and read one: , which is part of a new Never Land Series.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 29, 2008 01:27 PM

Mr Brouhaha,

A little something for a fellow revolver fan.

Don't blink!

Posted by: btSlowHandhun at February 29, 2008 03:36 PM

To get back to the Times article...

I've skimmed through it and this comment thread and nowhere do I find the name of the author of the No Child Left Behind act.

Sure, George W. Bush helped push the thing through congress, but I believe it was good old, Senetor Ted Kennedy who cobbled it together. Yet he never seems to get the blame.

This was one of those cases of bipartisan work that Bush should have learned from before stepping into that pile of dung called Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Posted by: joated at February 29, 2008 07:20 PM

"To get back to the Times article..."
Joated, Cass, and VC'ers

Please excuse me for my indulgence in the revolver tangent with Grim and Mr. Brouhaha.

"I've skimmed through it and this comment thread and nowhere do I find the name of the author of the No Child Left Behind act."

As penance allow me to offer a pointer to Public Law 107-110 aka No Child Left Behind, which is the latest evolution of the 1968 ESEA law.

Go to the http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d107query.html link or click here. In the "Enter Search" section, leave the context set to "Word/Phrase" and the "Exact Match Only radio button selected. Now entering the search string of "no child left behind" should return results which will allow you to see the list of sponsors in the house and the senate with links to the proposed legislation.

"In response to enhanced awareness and valuing of the rights of racial and ethnic minorities to have an adequate education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VI) was passed (Crawford, 2000). Four years later, the 1968 Bilingual and Education Act (BEA) was passed as the Title VII Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). With the passage of BEA came grant funding designated to assist the poor and those with limited English proficiency. It is with the 1968 BEA that a fundamental change is reflected in the language utilized to craft the act (Kloss, 1998). In its previous form (Title VI) students served were to be identified by the language spoken at home with the family. There was an absence of negative or evaluative disposition with respect to the population to be served. It is with the 1968 BEA that, for the first time, the targeted students are conceptualized as "deficient" and in need of having limitations remedied (Lyons, 1995). A challenge to the evaluation of the implementation of Title VII is the failure to specify concrete objectives or, more fundamentally, to define the term Bilingual Education (Leibowitz, 1971). Following the passage of the 1968 ESEA, there were six transformations of this legislation (1974, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1994, and 2001). Over the course of these transformations, the targeted population of the legislation changed, as did the programs used to serve said population as well as the identified purposes and objectives of the legislation."
The quoted block above is a summation of the evolution of NCLB and can be viewed in the context of the article in which I found it at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3673/is_200604/ai_n17182824/pg_1 or by clicking here.


Posted by: bthun at February 29, 2008 08:52 PM

Darn it... I seem to have omitted the link to NCLB as it was passed, into the law of the land.

Posted by: bthun at February 29, 2008 09:16 PM

College seniors know astoundingly little about America’s history, political thought, market economy and international relations.

Which is exactly how things should be, if you wish to present yourself, the socialist utopian vision of tomorrow, as the best thing ever in history.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 3, 2008 12:39 PM

ML -

I know the Eragon book well, The author was 17 when he wrote the first book. He hails from Montana, and because my sister lives in Montana, I not only knew about it, but had read the book long before it became popular. I have the second book, "Eldest" on my bookshelf, but haven't gotten to it yet.

Thx for the tip on the Peter Pan books. I will tell my daughter about them. If I can get her nose out of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, that is.

Posted by: Sly2017 at March 3, 2008 01:04 PM

> by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects

And yet, with THOSE skills, they might actually be able to learn the rest ON THEIR OWN in due time.

Be nice if other subjects were also tested, but, since teachers claim to be overwhelmed doing something done quite effectively a century ago in the "little red schoolhouse" (while doing far, far more), I'm not certain exactly what they expect is the alternative.

(more on this later, I've got to run errands)


Posted by: obloodyhell at March 4, 2008 05:33 PM